"Now let us see what we can do," says he, and he leads us up to a low desk and opens a big book, pointing you to a seat in the broad armchair and giving me the end of the sofa. "We have any sort of apartment you want, but it will save time if you will tell me what accomodations you require and about how much you are willing to pay."|
There is no earthly reason why we should not reply in English; but the spirit of Paris is upon us, and we say that we must have a salon, a salle à mangeé, cuisine, trois chambres, a salle des bains, and at least one dressing room; and for the right place we are willing to pay perhaps 250 francs a month. That sounds less prosaic than to mention parlor, dining room, kitchen, three bedrooms, and bath at $50 a month.
"Ah, now, there's the trouble!" he exclaims, and an expression of keen anxiety overspreads his face. "Its those three sleeping rooms that are going to bother us. We have some fine apartments at that price, but they generally have one or perhaps two sleeping rooms; and every extra room of course adds to the cost. You couldn't go a little above 250 francs, I suppose?"
Artistic Work Commences.
We are careful not to smile at this "feeler," it is so artistically done; though we both understand, naturally, that the agent is not our agent, but the landlord's, from whom he derives his commission, and that the larger rent he can induce us to pay the larger his commission. So we hesitate over it, in a very businesslike way, and say that it would depend upon circumstances.
"Now I have a number of places that I know would suit you," he goes on, "if you could go just a trifle higher in price. Or perhaps we can find something at your price, with a little extra trouble. Anyhow I will make out a list of eight or ten places for you, and we'll see what we can do."
He copies a dozen addresses on the back of an envelope, and takes out his watch.
"I don't know, but I can let some other things stand and go with you to look at a few of these places," he continues. "Let me see, 10:45; yes, we might take a carriage and I can get you started, at any rate. You cannot be too careful in dealing with these Paris landlords. Everything must be put on paper, and before a witness. I am afraid you would not get along well alone in bargaining with them. You say you are not acquainted with the city? Oh, yes; I must go with you, certainly."
We are glad, no doubt, to have the agent with us, if only for guide and interpreter, though we know that guides and interpreters come high. And then we must be so careful in dealing with the Parisian landlords! Who knows what might have happened if we had encountered them alone?
There is no dearth of carriages in the neighborhood of Rue Scribe and the Grand Opera, and in five minutes we are off, the next young man doubtless taking his place at the desk in wait for the next customer.
In going through the streets our agent takes particular pains to make himself agreeable. He points out how we can always tell what region we are in in Paris without reference to the street signs. Here is the Madeleine, for instance; and for blocks around, in all directions, everything bears the name of Madeleine--Grand Magazine du Madeleine, Café du Madeleine, Bazar du Madeleine, and so on. And he compares things French with things American, always to the advantage of America. He points out hundreds of fine buildings belonging to insurance companies, and explains that they are required by law to own enough local real estate to guarantee their liabilities. He has more information than a guide book, and is more sociable than an impecunious friend.
The "Touch" is Felt.
After a long drive to the westward, we reach our first destination, which is in Rue Barye. When we meet the landlady we learn from the conversation that our agent has been there before within a few hours with a party of ladies. And what are they going to do, the lady wants to know. Oh, they have not made up their minds, the agent says; but he turns to us and adds in English that they are not going to take the place, though he does not want to hurt the landlady's feelings by telling her so.
We are taken up one flight of stairs to an apartment, rather handsomely furnished, that would suit admirably if the rooms enjoyed the advantage of a little more daylight. But the house is on the shady side of the street, and the rooms are too dark. So the landlady is told that these new applicants will make up their minds later, and, once in the carriage, Rue Barye is crossed off the list.
"Now we will take a short cut through the Bois de Boulogne," our agent says. "I want to show you a handsome place in Neuilly, just outside the fortifications. It may be a little too far out for you, but it is within a half an hour of the heart of the city, and there are trains and boats at all hours."
While driving through the shady Bois, which is more like a pleasure trip than a house-hunting expedition, we say something about keeping our friend too long from his business.
"Oh, it is no matter," he is quick to reply. "I may lose a few customers by my absence, but that's the way it goes. There is not much money in the business at any rate. I make very little out of it except what my customers choose to give me for my services."
That is another artistic touch, so gently applied that we hardly realize at the moment that it is a delicate intimation that our friend is not above accepting the tip of gratitude and satisfaction--the American tip in short.
A Bit of Strategy.
The Neuilly place proves to be far too much in the country, and we turn cityward again, to be stopped at the fortifications by the Octroi officers, who glance at the carriage to see whether we have any goods subject to duty. But as we have no chickens or eggs or fresh vegetables concealed about us we are allowed to pass, and within a few minutes the agent drops a very delicate hint about lunch, refraining from giving its French name on account of our Americanism.
This being received in frosty silence we go on a little way further, when he begins to grow solicitous about us. Even if we are not hungry, he thinks, it is not well for us to go too long without eating, until we become more used to the climate. We let him go on for some minutes solely for the enjoyment of his Michael Angelo touches, and at length invite him in proper form to lunch with us, leaving to his superior knowledge the choice of place.
Here, and here only, our friendly agent descends to the commonplace. With the choice of the whole city before him, he takes us to an uninviting restaurant with the cheapness written all over it--one of the places where you sit in little iron chairs on the sidewalk and eat cheap food from little iron tables. Even in this, though, there may be higher art than we suspect. If he makes our lunch bill small we have all the more left for the coming tip.
Then begins again the laborious but interesting round of examining apartments. We are seeing the interiors of more Paris houses to-day than we are likely to see again in a hurry. We climb stone stairs and wooden stairs, look through large rooms and small. Everywhere the kitchen is the same: a long, narrow closet, sometimes with a window and sometimes without; a range, and a great array of copper pans, called in this country the "batterie de cuisine."
In some of the places no sane mortal would think of living, but with most the great obstacle is their height. The Parisians must be a winged race, for they live in eyries high as church steeples and stand on frail balconies leaning against slender rails without sign of fear.
"Now I want to take you to Passy," he says at length, when we have sadly shaken our heads at everything offered. "I have a house there that I am sure would suit you, though the rent may be a little too high."
This gives us a shock. A whole house! And in Paris, where we have looked at some flats that rent for 3,500 francs a month! But he has said it, and in a few minutes more we are in Passy, close by the Trocadero Palace in one direction and the Arc de Triomphe in another.
Cooped by a Coup de Force.
We see at a glance that this is his star place, and that he has intended from the beginning that we shall rent it. It has a long frontage on the street, partly house and partly high stone wall. And the curious little stone house, strangely shaped, is only two stories high, so there can be no long series of stairs to climb.
The aged landlady herself opens the door and shows us into a tiled passage full of hangings and handsome furniture. She takes us into the big yard and turns on the fountain and exhibits her pet flowers. The place is all that could be desired, gas, bath, well furnished, big square kitchen shining with brass pans, big range, little range, and gas stove. Evidently it was once a suburban house, well walled in; but the spreading city has grown up around it.
It is "tres joli," as the landlady says, and there is something comforting in the idea of having a real house in Paris instead of a series of pigeon-holes; but that grim monster, the price, is still to be dealt with--the agent is still to add some of his most artistic touches.
She has always rented the house for 600 francs a month, the landlady says; but the demand is not equal to the supply this year, and she is willing to sacrifice it for 400.
We suggest to the agent that it is not worth while to waste time at these figures. He engages in a long and rapid conversation with the landlady. His business is to bring us up to her price rather than to bring her down to ours, but he argues with her because a small commission is better than none.
She is willing, after awhile, to take 350 francs. But we are obdurate. We will go as high as 300, but rather than pay more we will put up a tent in the Champ de Mars.
At length, the old lady yields. She will accept 300 francs, with the trifling sop to her honor that we are to pay her 25 francs besides for linen and silver.
This concludes the business for us, but not for our friendly agent. "Now," he says, "your only safety is to have an inventory of the furniture made. If you do not have an inventory, describing the condition of everything, you will have a heavy bill of damages to pay on leaving. We charge 25 francs for the inventory."
By this time we are reduced to such a mental and physical state that if he should drive a white elephant into the yard and explain how handsome he would look gamboling on the grass we should buy him on the spot. We helplessly consent to the inventory, and it is worth the money to see him overhaul everything, with the landlady at his shoulder.
Plaster cracked here; duly noted. Spot on this counterpane; two spots on that table cover; mantel chipped; this platter cracked; that pan leaks. Not a flaw anywhere escapes his notice, and he sets everything down in writing. He even crawls into a dark closet with a lighted match and makes a note of the state of the gas meter.
At the end of it all our young Canadian is fresh as a rose--fresh enough to engage in a long squabble with the landlady over his commission, which he says is to be 10 per cent., and which she says is to be 5. She triumphs in the end; and the lease is drawn and stamped, and when they count over our 325 francs he pockets his 5 per cent. commission, as well as the tip that we feel he has thoroughly earned, and his 25 francs for the inventory.
And we? We have become householders in that part of Paris called Passy, at the trifling cost of a day's hunt and about 80 francs in d'argent.
The New York Times, December 12, 1897:|
HOUSEKEEPING IN PARIS.Frenchmen Know Nothing About How to Warm Their Living Apartments.
COPPER KITCHEN BRIC-A-BRAC
Expenses as Great as in New York, but Traveling Facilities are Cheap and Plenty.
PARIS, Nov. 20.--...Where they have comparatively mild half-and-half sort of weather, late Fall and early Spring clasping hands before severe Winter has a chance to make itself felt, that is where people suffer from the cold. London and Paris are both in that unfortunate position. Having none of our arctic cold, the people try to imagine that they do not need much artificial heat; and I must do them the credit to say that they live up to their principles, and have very little heat indeed.
One of my greatest delights in London last Winter was seeing the natives huddle around a sickly little soft-coal fire in the grate, wrap themselves in rugs, and hear them say to me between shivers, "I don't see how you can stand that terrible cold in your country, Mr. Drysdale..." One Londoner to whom I tried to explain the system of heating with hot air could not rid himself of the notion that the smoke as well as the heat must come up through the registers; "and that would be beastly, don't you know," said he.
Here in Paris the Winters are not quite as cold as they are in London, and the heating devices are consequently even more insignificant. The best hotels and the newer dwelling houses must be excepted from this, as they are generally heated with steam. Heating with hot air is not in favor as far as I have seen. Nine dwellings out of ten have no heating arrangements beyond the tiny grates, and when a cold day comes the people suffer.
In the Parisian house that I am most familiar with there is a toy grate in every room but the kitchen and dining room. The grates I shall introduce you to presently, but first let me make you acquainted with the remarkable affair that is vainly supposed to heat the dining room. It stands in one corner of the room and is about five feet high and three broad, and perhaps two feet thick. On the big marble slab on its top is a family of plaster statuettes, most of them in costumes adapted to warmer climates. It is covered with shiny brown tiles, and for the first two or three weeks I took it for a refrigerator.
But when a cold day came and the concierge brought in an "armful" of wood like a bunch of lead pencils and began to build a fire in it, I saw that it was intended for a stove. There are two bronze doors in the front, one above the other, and two dampers near the top, one on each side.
Introduction to a French Stove.
He opened the lower door and disclosed a little grate much resembling a gridiron, and built his fire upon it. The draught came thruogh a slide in the lower part of the door.
"That's a grand stove," I said to myself, "if those few sticks in it will heat this room."
When I say that the draught "came" through a slide in the door, I do not make a grammatical error. Came is the word, not went. The current of air came down the chimney, past the fire, and out into the room, bringing all the smoke with it. When he opened the dampers, which have nothing to do with the fire but let the imaginary heat escape from the stove into the room, such a rush of cold air came in that he had to shut them again. In five minutes the wood was reduced to smoke and ashes, the smoke remained in the room, and the air as colder than before...
"Here, take this 5 francs," I told him, "and go to the 'bois et Charbon's' place around the corner and get me a cord of wood. I pay $1 a cord for it in Georgia; but things are so much cheaper in Europe, maybe you can get 2 cords for $1 here. How do they sell their wood?"
"Deux sous le kilo, Monsieur," said he.
A sou is a cent and a kilo is about two pounds--1 cent a pound. At a rough estimate, that is between $35 and $50 a cord. But no matter; those Americans are all millionaires, and cannot shiver for a trifle like that.
An Expensive Trifle.
He came in presently with the dollar's worth of wood under his arm, and for the next two hours we all took turns feeding the stove. The thing developed the most amazing appetite without giving any results but smoke. When the last stick was burned, and we were still shivering, we got a pencil and paper and made a careful calculation. With that stove at 50 cents an hour, and the nine grates in the house at the same rate, we might, without eating anything or paying any further rent, keep warm for two or three weeks, and could then go home in steerage...
The open fireplaces are pretty little bits of furniture. No people know better than the Parisians how to make such things handsome and graceful. There is a mantel always, with a mirror over it, and a perfect battery of ornamental fenders and other brass things in front. The "blower" to give a draught works up and down in slides like an iron shutter, and the whole opening is about two and a half feet square. But the grate is the business portion, and the grate is a toy. Take a wire broiler from your pantry and bend the middle like a letter V, put legs to it, and you have a pretty fair imitation of the Parisian grate. It might hold about three quarts of coal, and is entirely separate from the fireplace. Wnen you burn coal in it and the fire goes out, as it is sure to do every few minutes, a little tip with the poker upsets it and spills out the cinders very conveniently. If you build a wood fire in it, you are alternately grilled and chilled, there is no middle course.
No Trouble to Keep Cool.
But if it is hard to keep warm, it is equally easy to remain cool in the hottest weather. No matter how hot the Summer day, the interior of these stone houses is never uncomfortably warm. In some days in midsummer the sun's heat in exposed places is almost as bad as in New York, but with the greater number of trees here it is easier to keep in the shade for almost any distance. Ice is much more plentiful than in London, but it is not in common use, except in the best hotels and restaurants. Indeed, there is nothing wean a man from the ice habit like a year's stay in Europe. In the smaller towns it is not to be had, and in the largest cities it is seldom seen in private houses.
There is a better reason for not using it in Paris, however, than in any other city I have seen. The water as it comes from the pipes here is almost as cold as ice water; in the hottest weather it is cool enough to drink with comfort.
Strangers, to be sure, hear so much about the bad water of the Continent that they are very shy of it, and resort to mild wines and table waters. But even in that case the cold water from the pipes is a great convenience, as a bottle of pure water stood corked for a few minutes under the running water is sufficiently cooled. This is always the cook's method of cooling things for the table, and it is a plan that makes the landlord's heart sad when he happens to see it, for he has the water bill to pay, and it is charged according to the quantity used.
That water from the pipes in Paris is not as deadly as visitors suppose, I can testify from experience, having drunk it continually for several months without filtering or boiling. It is clear and sweet, and whatever microbes it contains are of the invisible kind.
Copper Pans as Ornaments.
The Paris kitchen is remarkable for its smallness and its neatness. In the apartment houses it is no more than a closet, but a closet well arranged for the purpose. The floor and the lower part of the wall are tiled, the sink is a big slab or building stone hollowed out, the range adapted for a large fire of coal or a small one of charcoal. The oven soon becomes a receptacle for extra pans, for no baking is done, the fire being allowed to die out after each meal. To bake? Why, the cook would sputter bad French all over the yard if you were to ask her to bake anything. What are the bakeshops for, Monsieur? If there is any brand of cake that Madame is specially fond of, and she can make the dough for it, the cook will take it to the bakeshop, and they will bake it for a few sous. Or if there is a roast of beef, or a leg of lamb she will take that out to be baked, at less cost than keeping up the fire.
Not long ago a young American lady made a visit to two other young American ladies, who were living with their mother in an apartment not far from the Latin Quarter. Being new to Paris, she was shown through the rooms, and when she reached the kitchen she was filled with horror at its size--or want of size.
"Why," she exclaimed, "where can you keep your flour barrel!"
"Just think of it! one of the other young ladies laughed, in telling me of it; "the idea of a flour barrel in Paris, where nobody ever buys more than 5 sous worth of flour at a time! I should like to see a Paris grocer if any one asked for a barrel of flour."
The "battery" of copper pans and kettles is the chief beauty of the Parisian kitchen. It takes from forty to sixty of these shining utensils to make a complete set, and they are always kept hanging against the wall. It is not in your own kitchen only that you see them, but in a hundred kitchens as you go through the streets. In the apartment houses many of the kitchens are at the front, and the cook on the ground floor likes to open her windows and sit sewing where she can at once see the bustle of the pavement and let passers-by see the brilliancy of her pans. There are vessels of every conceivable size and shape, and many whose uses a male American can hardly guess. One, in particular, a big, cylindrical affair, gave me the impression of an ice cream freezer; but after several weeks I found it to be a sort of inclosed spit, for roasting meat before the fire. And in every kitchen is a big, diamond-shaped pan, three or four inches deep, about the size to roast a baby or a big turkey in.
There are some French secrets, however, about the battery of copper pans that I am able to disclose. All those shining things are for ornament, not for use. It is the custom to have them, and when Arabella Melinda marries and sets up housekeeping she must have a complete assortment, if only to show her friends that she is able to have them. But the cook will not use them if she can possibly help it. They are extremely heavy; that is one objection. And every time they are used they have to be scoured, which is still a greater objection. It takes a great deal of muscle and a bottle of acid to make them shine. So cook induces the mistress to buy a half-dozen common pans of tin or granite ware, and those are what she uses. They are carefully stowed away out of sight, but it is in the tin pans that dinner is cooked. The coppers in your kitchen answer exactly the same purpose as the pictures in your parlor...
Living No Cheaper than in New York.
The cost of living in Paris I think is almost identical with the cost of living in New York, if you live in about the same way in both places. Some apartments here in respectable neighborhoods can be rented much cheaper than anything similar in New York, but they are small and cramped. A good flat in Paris costs about the same as a good flat in New York. And I do not see that in the long run there is any difference in the price of provisions; if there is any difference, New York is the cheaper.
Some kinds of food are much dearer than with us, others much cheaper. Vegetables, for instance, are ridiculously cheap. For 2 or 3 cents you buy a good head of cauliflower or an excellent bunch of celery. Meats, on the contrary, are very high, and not as good as with us.
Cakes, pastry, all the little knick-knacks from the baker's, are dear, and all the better kinds of bread. The ordinary bread is cheap, and is sold by the pound, the baker cutting from a big loaf as many pounds or ounces as you wish. Almost everything, in fact, sells by the pound--potatoes, apples, bread, wood, coal, sometimes even eggs.
At Felix Potins, the great grocery concern of Paris, being for eatables what our big department stores are for dry goods, the products of all countries can be had, and everything cheaper than at the smaller places. If you do not care for as much as a whole fowl, Mr. Potin will sell you the half of one, or the quarter, cleaned and dressed, ready for cooking.
Cheap Transit in Paris.
In means of transit Paris is incomparably superior to London, and better in many respects than New York. You can travel by 'bus, by tram, by electric tram, steam tram, flacre, or boat, and always for a small price. At the stations of the 'buses and trams, and stations are to be found everywhere, you step in and get a numbered ticket from a box, without charge. When the car comes along, the holder of ticket No. 1 gets in first, No. 2 next, and so on, till there are enough passengers to fill the seats. After that the "complet" sign is displayed, and no more are taken.
The Paris cabby is a person of too much importance to be discussed in a few lines at the end of a letter. He is, I regret to say, rather slouchy in manner, fond of sitting cross-legged on the box, and of puffing pipe or cigarette while driving. The really stylish driver lives in New York, the next in London, and the devil-may-care fellow operates in Paris.
...Not long ago I took a flacre from near the Trocadero for a series of little journeys, and about 6 o'clock in the evening, when we were on the south side of the Seine, near Mount Parnasse Cemetary, cabby said he should like to stop a moment to change his horse. We drove into the large stables of one of the cab companies, two or three grooms rushed up to take out the horse, and two or three more brought another animal and attached him to the coach, while cabby stood by without deigning to lend a hand. When all was ready one of the grooms brushed cabby's clothes and hat like a hotel bell boy. Cabby distributed a few copper tips among the men, and away we drove. As a receiver of tips, cabby is well known, but to see him dispensing them is not so common.
[The above are the 29th and 30th in a series of over 40 New York Times articles by reporter William Drysdale describing his European tour in 1897 and 1898. The 2nd article in the series can currently be read on the London News page, the 6th article from the series on the England News page, and the 31st article from the series on the France News page.]